Protection from Harassment Act
Prior to 2014, there were very few easily identifiable laws on harassment in Singapore. In November 2014, The Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) was passed as a landmark legislation, and is now the main body of law protecting people who have become the targets of harassment or stalking, both online and physically.
Under POHA, harassment is described as actions ‘involving threatening, abusive or insulting words, behaviours or communications. Such behaviours may be actionable if a) it is meant to cause you harassment, alarm or distress or b) is likely to cause you these feelings and you heard or saw the offending behaviours or words’.
With the recognition of harassment laws under a formal legislation, there is a renewed focus on workplace harassment.
In view of the broadened reach of the Act, it is important that companies ensure that their anti-harassment policies comply with the new legislation.
Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment (the “Advisory”)
After POHA was passed, the Advisory was also issued by a committee comprising government stakeholders, unions, employers and subject matter experts to provide authoritative guidance for employers on addressing workplace harassment.
Although the Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment is not technically law, it may have legal implications as it prescribes what companies and their staff should do to address and prevent workplace harassment. This may affect a company’s duty of care to provide its employees with a safe place of work.
As a facet of POHA, the Advisory recommends that employers adopt the following practices:
- Develop a harassment prevention policy
Employers should develop a formal policy which prohibits harassment and also ensures recourse in the case of harassment at the workplace. The policy should be developed in consultation with workers in the organisation/the unions (if any)
- Provide information and training on workplace harassment
It is important to ensure that harassment is taken seriously at all levels of the organisation. Thus employers are encourage to train their employees, especially the HR, line managers and supervisors to handle harassment cases. Employers can also consider establishing a support group or engaging professionals to provide counselling services and support to affected persons.
- Implement reporting and response procedures (grievance handling)
Employers should develop the following procedures, where practicable, to handle any potential workplace harassment issues:
- Harassment reporting line to ensure timely reporting
- Investigation procedures to ensure fair treatment of workplace harassment issues
- Closure to prevent recurrence of incident
Employers should ensure that employees are aware of these procedures, and are able to utilise them easily.
Given that workplaces are rapidly becoming more diverse, cultural differences may lead to different conceptions of what is acceptable workplace behaviour. It is thus critical that companies trains their staff on recognizing what constitutes harassment, who to turn to when a problem arises, and the company’s zero-tolerance policy against harassment.
In our experience we have found that clear policies and procedures on workplace harassment is the key to effective resolutions of harassment incidents, and a strong signal that the company cares about the safety of its employees.